How to Make a Contemporary Creche

comments (13) December 15th, 2008     

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Jeff_Rudell Jeffery Rudell, contributor
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For a soldier serving far from home, this modern holiday creche arrives in a simple envelope but will bring with it all your hopes and sentiments for the season.
Bold shapes and bright colors put a distinctly contemporary spin on the traditional nativity scene.
An understated envelope offers little clue to the surprise within. What better Christmas Card than to send the whole Christmas story in one package?
For a soldier serving far from home, this modern holiday creche arrives in a simple envelope but will bring with it all your hopes and sentiments for the season.

For a soldier serving far from home, this modern holiday creche arrives in a simple envelope but will bring with it all your hopes and sentiments for the season.

Photo: Jeff Rudell
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Ten weeks ago, I threw down the gauntlet (well, gently placed it at your feet, dear reader) and invited you all to take up the mantle "client" and task me with a project of your own choosing. Ten weeks later, all I can say in the wake of your overwhelming response is, I need to be careful what I wish for.

To begin with, there seemed to be a great deal of interest in me re-creating works of architecture. I had suggestions for opera houses (Syndey, London, and Metropolitan). Landmarks came in second (the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal), followed by a hodgepodge of interesting objects (birdcages, prom dresses, a western saddle, and a child's mobile). Bringing up the rear, scenes from nature (snowflakes, waterfalls, deer, dogs, swans, flowers, and trees). A few contributors suggested lofty goals in support of causes (breast cancer awareness, pet adoption, and voting). Particularly difficult suggestions to create them of water also appeared (pools, ponds, streams, and waterfalls). Clearly there is no dearth of ideas out there among the CraftStylish community, and I thank everyone who participated for being so generous in sharing their thoughts with me.

Of all of the suggestions I received, however, three stood out as being particularly interesting to me:

For the sheer ironic whimsy of her idea, I have to applaud Asia_Tatiana for requesting I fabricate "Rock, Paper, Scissors" out of paper. The idea alone made me roar with delight and while I haven't yet attempted this project, I know I will one day soon if only for the pleasure of using scissors to create a pair of paper scissors!

For requesting something that might be suitable to send to her spouse who is serving in Iraq, I also have to thank kangsci. I cannot think of a better use for a craft than to carry a message of heartfelt thanks, relentless longing, and undying devotion to a loved one who is far away. This project has all of the properties I crave in a challenge: It would have to be beautiful, it would have to be able to be shipped (preferably flat-packed and, better still, sent in a simple envelope), it would have to be unexpected (not what one would imagine arriving in an envelope), and it should be something reminicient of home (especially since it would be arriving in the desert on the other side of the world during a time of year when so many families are drawing near to one another). I gave this a lot of thought but found that many of the ideas I struck upon were either patriotic in a predictable way or hopelessly frivolous.

Then, thanks to wildenfunky's suggestion of a nativity scene, I hit upon something I thought might work. Of course, I do not know if kangsci's spouse is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Agnostic, and so it was somewhat beyond my knowledge to know if such a gift from home would be appropriate. However, I decided to work from the position of what "I" would send, and this project definitely fits the bill.

The design solution I came up with could not be simpler. I created white paper cards in a variety of sizes (from 2-1/2 inches x 2-1/2 inches up to 9 inches x 6 inches) and cut very simple silhouettes out of each of them. Then, I've added a sheet of brightly colored paper to the inside of each card, resulting in a colorful, easy-to-make, and endlessly expandable collection of nativity components. I stopped with just seven animals, three people, a manger, and a star, but one could add any number of other beasts, the three kings, and flora such as palm trees or even a Bethlehem cityscape.

The project is so self-evidently simple as to not even require much of a tutorial beyond my suggestion that the animal shapes can easily be found online, in picture books, or can be drawn freehand by those crafters with an eye for such things and a steady hand.

If I were sending this gift to someone far from home, I would likely invite all the members of their family to each take a card and write a message of love and support on the back of it. For me, whose family is spread far and wide, the holidays have always been less about getting together once a year to share a dinner and exchange presents. For me, it has always been the season to reach out and remind the ones I love how deeply I care for them and how close to my heart I hold them (even when we're separated by great distances).

I am grateful to all the members who so generously offered me ideas and suggestions. For those creative crafters whose ideas I didn't choose, I offer this challenge in return, why not try your own hand at the wildly extravagant or deeply challenging idea you offered up to me. Chances are, if you can conceive of it, you can, with a little work, a little patience, and an occasional willingness to make mistakes and begin again build a dream project all on your own.

To those readers who regularly follow this post, you will remember that last week I mentioned that this week's post would be "suitable" for a guy to receive or create. For anyone still confused, I would ask you only to imagine each of these creche components the way I initially imagined them: as jigsawed and painted pieces of hinged plywood decorating a snow-covered lawn. As a child, I remember watching my father fabricate a snowman, a santa, a sleigh, and a variety of elves with only his handy Black & Decker saw and a few festive cans of paint. As the final project of "Guy" week, I offer this paper version as a maquette of the full-sized lawn version I envisioned. For the devoted woodworker in your life, these bright and bold figures promise to make him the envy of each passing neighbor.

A small card of white paper with a piece of brightly colored paper glued in place on the inside flap was the beginning of my bold and modern menagerie.


I photocopied a package of butter to get the shape of this cow. Then, I traced it onto a white card and cut it out using a craft knife.


For the horse shape, I took a photograph of a small, plastic horse figurine and then outlined it using Photoshop. I then scaled it to fit my card.


Given the relatively small scale of the pieces, I chose shapes that were not too detailed. The goal was the "suggestion" of an animal only, not a realistic depiction of one.


I tried to pick coordinated colors of a consistent value. (The "Black Sheep" is the one component I left out of the finished project because I thought it was too dark).


I tried to limit myself to an overall format of 9 inches x 6 inches, so I made my largest figure (a camel) that size, and scaled all the other pieces in relation to it.


The Mary and Joseph figures are little more than roundish and squarish shapes, respectively. The folded hands and shepherd's crook, along with the halos, are all that's necessary to complete the symbolic representations.


The "Stable and Star" is the only componet that has the color on the front of the card, instead of inside. This dark blue piece represents the night and makes a perfect background to all the other components.


Representing "Christ in the Manger" was a challenge. I finally decided that a child with upstretched arms and a halo would suffice to convey the idea. The bright yellow is the lightest and most vivid color in the entire project as is fitting for such a centerpiece.


Note that the scale of the animals and figures is different than that of the stable and star; the latter is meant to represent background objects and, as such, the objects represented are much smaller.


To complete the project, I crafted an envelope 6-1/2 inches x 9-1/2 inches on the front of which I cut out the word "Noel."


All of the components were then folded flat and inserted into the envelope for mailing.


The finished project, displayed on a piece of green felt, offers a distinctly modern take on the traditional holiday creche.
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Comments (13)

healthfood writes: I thought this was going to provide a stencil of some sort. Great concept to do from scratch with older kids, but being a mom with little ones, I wouldn't have the time or energy to do that. If anyone cares to share their stencils on the project, you'd make a happy mamma here in little land.
Posted: 12:16 am on December 4th
dotted writes: How fun! This is also good for the folks who move a lot; students, truckers, airline folk, people in small homes, or just because you want to give something special. I know it's best to cut inside the paper but for those of us who aren't there yet or for kids, could I cut in from the outside? And if so is there a good way to seal the cut?
Posted: 8:58 pm on December 21st
Jeff_Rudell writes: mistah's comment points out an oversight on my part, chiefly that the "Noel" envelope is intended only as packaging for storing the nativity components. I would still recommend a sturdy manila envelope be used to when sending this item through the mail in order to protect your creation from dirt or damage. Think of the "Noel" envelope" as the project box and the manila envelope as the wrapping paper that hides your surprise. Thank you, mistah.
Posted: 6:48 am on December 17th
mistah writes: I think this is an absolutely wonderful idea! I can't wait to show my nieces and nephews how to do this---not only for Xmas, but also for birthdays and other holidays. A word of caution about the outside enevelope, however. It would be a shame for those beautiful creations to get destroyed by automated machinery used in the USPS. If anyone is inclined to cut the letters "Noel" (or any other phrase) out of the outside envelope either use clear tape on both sides of the cut, or a very strong paper weight. I'd sugesst the former or not cutting it. There are billions of letters going through our machinery and things get caught, torn, etc. Not always, but it can happen. I'm just sayin...
Keep those creative juices flowing!
Posted: 4:47 am on December 17th
LAURAMCHUGH writes: Jeffery you are the Paper Master. Everything you do is done with such care,time,talent and great skill. I am always impressed and waiting to see what you come up with next. This has simple clean lines and would look great in any home or office. I am a middle school art teacher and know that sometimes the simplest looking designs are usually the hardest to acheive. Congrats on acheiving a clean line holiday theme project that we all can attempt. Thanks for sharing you talents. I use this site and share your great projects with my students and they to are amazed. Keep up the great work. Happy Holidays, Happy Crafting and we look forward to more of your great project designs in the new year. You should market these. xoxoxox
Posted: 4:12 pm on December 15th
Carriecan writes: This is shockingly great! I agree with the other comment--I want to BUY this--I don't think I could make mine so beautifully--and the colors you chose--just perfect
Posted: 3:12 pm on December 15th
Asia_Tatiana writes: Oh my, I am absolutely thrilled for my idea to have been considered! Thank you Jeffery! And as for this is amazing, wonderful, and so beautiful. I love how you are able to render a simple idea so stunningly. Thanks again for the shout out!
Posted: 3:06 pm on December 15th
AWilcox writes: I am speechless, what a wonderful HOLIDAY Treat! I know so many people who would love to have something like this as a decorations around their homes, under their tree, on the fireplace mantel, on a nearby coffee table or any display area during the holidays!

This is magnificent, great work like always. I don't even want to attempt making this - just tell me how can I buy this? It makes a terrific Christmas present that can be cherish for years.
Posted: 2:47 pm on December 15th
brooklynflower writes: Jeffrey, I love this one!!! All of your ideas are always beautiful, but this one is achievable by virtually everyone at any skill level. LOVE that it packs flat as well- a lovely gift to make! --Steph Gueldner
Posted: 2:03 pm on December 15th
Peggy123 writes: Wow! What an amazing idea, as always!
Posted: 1:59 pm on December 15th
halfaperfectpair writes: This is amazing!!
Posted: 11:41 am on December 15th
wildenfunky writes: Oh JEFFERY!!!! To have your talent!! This is truely divine!!! And so special that you can send it to people. Thank you so very much......yes, MaryCorbet, the 'sendability' is very exciting!! Merry Christmas everyone, from a sweltering Zambia!! :) lvoe Adrien
Posted: 9:46 am on December 15th
MaryCorbet writes: Very nice!

I like the simplicity and the "sendability" of it...
Posted: 8:36 am on December 15th
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